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Anderson the Great

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James_Anderson_England_Cricket_TestTest number 143 of his career will always remain one of the biggest of James Anderson’s career. It was here that the England swing bowler overtook Australia’s Glenn McGrath to become the most successful fast bowler in Test cricket history.

Anderson now has 564 wickets at an average of 26.84 with 26 five-wicket hauls. In a career that has spanned 15 years, Anderson has shown time and again that he is not just the best swing bowler of this era but also one of the greatest fast bowlers to have played the game both in terms of skills and longevity.

Anderson achieved the feat in a famous win against India at The Oval in the 5th and last Test of the series. Expectedly, the cricketing fraternity showered their praise on Anderson, hailing him as one of the finest products of English cricket.

Meanwhile, McGrath is thrilled to see his record broken by such a skillful bowler and is amazed at Jimmy’s ability to stay fit for so long. McGrath has now challenged Anderson to go past 600 wickets and set it as his new target.

 

"Once Jimmy goes past me it will be interesting to see where he wants to set the bar. With the nature of the game these days, and the amount of Twenty20 cricket, I believe no fast bowler will ever go past him,” McGrath had been quoted as saying.

 

The only one close to him at present is South Africa’s Dale Steyn, whose career has been hampered with injuries. Hence, it is likely that no other bowler will even come close to Anderson in the next decade or so. Anderson has also bowled more balls - 31,500 - than any other fast bowler in history. It is a phenomenal feat; in fact, to play 143 Tests for a fast bowler is in itself an achievement.

That Anderson is still going strong at 36 years of age speaks volumes of his commitment to his art and his fitness. And what’s more, he still looks hungry. He is still honing his art. Still trying to develop new variations to outfox batsmen. And that is what sets him apart from other bowlers of this era. That is why James Anderson has lasted so long and continues to mesmerize.

What sets Anderson apart?

While Anderson is the most successful bowler in Test cricket history now, his name is still not spoken with the same reverence as some of the other fast bowling greats who have more than 400 wickets to their name. Glenn McGrath (563 wickets from 124 Tests), Courtney Walsh (519 from 132), Kapil Dev (434 from 131), Richard Hadlee (431 from 86), Dale Steyn (421 from 88), Shaun Pollock (421 from 108), Wasim Akram (414 from 104) and Curtly Ambrose (405 from 98) have always been accorded great respect, even awe, in the annals of cricket history. But is Anderson’s name given the same respect, especially outside his country? Not as much as it deserves, one would think.

Perhaps because he doesn’t inspire as much fear. Or he doesn’t have any unique eccentricities in his bowling. And yet Anderson has some distinct qualities that set him apart from all the other fast bowling legends.

He is a menace in overcast conditions and has that rare ability to move the ball both ways. His action is smooth; no flair or histrionics. He delivers the ball with an easily grooved run-up and without any perceptible change in his action, which is perhaps the most lethal part of his skill. Over the years, Anderson has also developed a wobbly-seam delivery that doesn’t give the batsman any hint as to which way the ball will move –in or out – leaving them confounded.

 

Another notable feature of Anderson’s bowling is that he is relentless; ball after ball he will keep coming at the batsman with the same line, giving them no respite. He disguises his change-ups cleverly and what he lacks in pace he more than makes up for with his accuracy and swing.

 

An oft-repeated criticism against Anderson has been his inability to swing the ball in unhelpful conditions and on flat surfaces, especially on sub-continental pitches. But he has shown in the recent past that he has worked hard on that aspect of his game as well. In the last Test of the series against India at The Oval, when KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant were blazing away and had forged a 150-run partnership, Joe Root called on Anderson to get a breakthrough.

The ball was 70 overs old and the nip and swing had long gone. There was hardly any help in the surface for the seamers but Anderson bowled his heart out with 4 maidens on the trot against two batsmen who were hammering all the other English bowlers nonchalantly. While he didn’t take any wickets in that spell, his persistent control and pressure allowed the other bowlers to finally get the breakthrough.

That is another reason that Anderson is a great bowler. Even in his 16th year in international cricket, where he has achieved so much, he doesn’t like to sit on his laurels and take it easy. He is working hard. He is continuously evolving. And he is in great form as well. This is evident from the fact that he was the leading wicket-taker from either side in the series against India, with 24 wickets in the 5 Tests at a superb average of 18.12. It is also apparent from the fact that he got his career-best figures only last year, with his terrific spell of 7-42 against West Indies at Lord’s.

James Anderson’s greatness lies not just in his numbers and longevity, but also in his constant evolution. Not many bowlers in history have been able to attain this quality.

What next for Jimmy?

The obvious next target for James Anderson would be the coveted mark of 600 Test wickets, which no fast bowler in history has been able to achieve. At 36, Anderson is at the twilight of his career. But 36 more wickets don’t appear too far out of reach. Glenn McGrath certainly believes Jimmy can certainly get there.

 

“I think he’s still got little bit left in the tank yet,” McGrath said. “I’d like to see Jimmy go and get 600 and then whether he wants to try and knock off one of these dodgy spinners that are still at the top of the tree. I think Kumble is about 619. That’s within range,” the former Australian fast bowler added.

 

One blip in Anderson’s illustrious career has been his record away from home. While he has an incredible 368 wickets in 83 Tests at home at an average of 23.76, his away record pales in comparison: 174 wickets in 54 Tests at an average of 34.15. Like most bowlers, Anderson is better in home conditions. But to be unquestionably considered an all-time great fast bowler, he must try and improve his away record before he bids the game adieu. If Anil Kumble could do something similar right at the end of his career, so can Anderson.

Regardless of his away numbers, though, what Anderson has accomplished is exceptional. And whether one likes to give him enough credit or not, there is no denying that James Anderson is one of a kind swing bowler; perhaps the greatest the game has ever seen.

 

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